In every one of the many terrorism-related courses and seminars that I’ve participated in, the first thing discussed is always the lack of a universal definition for terrorism. The ambiguity created by the lack of a definition allows for overly-inclusive analyses of what terrorism is, who terrorists are, and who the victims of terrorism are. Israel has long been known to use very inclusive parameters when calculating terror victims, but today I ran across a statistic that pushes the limits of even the most inclusive definitions of who terror victims are.

While reading an interesting article in Foreign Policy magazine this morning by Robert A. Pape about the causes of suicide terrorism, my curiosity was sparked by the causes of the drop-off in Palestinian terrorism in recent years. As I was doing some basic internet-research looking for recent statistics on Palestinian terror attacks, I found myself reading an Israeli General Security Service (the Shin Bet) report. In the GSS’s 2009 summary of “Data and Trends in Palestinian Terrorism,” a few things immediately caught my attention.

The GSS states that 90% of all terror attacks in 2009 were in the form of Molotov cocktail throwing. This in itself is curious. Firstly, Molotov cocktails are usually thrown against the military. Most definitions of terrorism use the targeting of civilians as a necessary condition for terrorism. Israel has long considered attacks against military targets as terrorism, so this is not so surprising. It does, however, give some context to the following statistics.

The following sub-heading in the report is, “Data regarding casualties in terror attacks.” OK, this is what I was looking for. Knowing that Israel often includes military personnel as victims of terror, the second sentence in this section was not surprising. It says that nine out of the fifteen people killed in terror attacks in 2009 were killed in Operation Cast Lead (the 2009 Gaza War). The following sentence, however, was completely startling. It states that five civilians and soldiers “were killed by high-trajectory launchings (Kassam rockets) and four soldiers were killed by friendly fire.” What?

According to the GSS, 26% of all Israeli terror victims in 2009 were killed by the Israeli army. Casualties of friendly fire in military combat operations are almost always included in overall casualty figures so as not to take away from the fact that they were killed while fighting in a war their leaders sent them to risk their lives in. In all honesty, there is little difference. A soldier killed in a war isn’t any less dead – or heroic for that matter – by virtue of the trajectory or direction of the bullet that killed him. But to include soldiers killed by friendly fire as victims of terror raises questions, questions that are almost too uncomfortable to ask.